On Monday, March 11th at Seneca College's Newnham campus, Canada's very own Candy Palmater, delivered yet another very educational, eye-opening and empowering seminar to students and faculty. The seminar was part three of a four part series that Candy is leading at Seneca for the last three months that is funded through the First Peoples@Seneca center at Seneca College Newnham campus. I have had the pleasure of attending all three of the seminars and will be attending the fourth one on April 8th. For those of you who have never heard the name, Candy is a female Nova Scotian born Mi'kmaw lawyer, comedian, talk show host, actor, writer and motivational speaker who has focused on three very informative topics that centralize around laws, personal experiences, feminism, and perspectives involved with the Indigenous population in Canada.
Candy's first seminar titled, "Being Indigenous in a Colonized Nation", outlined some of the colonial undertones still present in today’s society, privilege and ally-ship. Most importantly, she discussed the history of residential schools and colonialism in Canada, the inter-generational effects that residential schools continue to take on the Indigenous communities of Canada, and clarified some of the Bills surrounding the Indian Act, such as Bill C-31, which resulted in many Indigenous women and their children losing their status due to marrying a non-Indigenous man. Candy discussed some of the negative stereotypes and false premisconceptions that arise out of a mere lack of knowledge, empathy and understanding of how Indigenous people in Canada were treated in the past and continue to be treated today.
The second seminar that Candy did was based around feminism and intersectionality, and was titled, “I am Woman”. During this seminar, Candy discussed her understanding and demonstration of the concept of “even stevens” at a young age, and the role this played in her becoming a feminist. Candy spoke about how feminism correlates with being Indigenous and how intersectionality makes the experience of sexism different when combined with racism. She explained how sexual exploration and activity was encouraged in early Indigenous communities and how Christianity brought shame in regards to the sexual views of the communities during this time. She elaborated on the correlation between how the Newcomers viewed the sexual power and expression of Indigenous women and how it has continued to shape and adversely affect the way Indigenous women are treated today. She concluded that the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada is indicative of what happened during colonization in Canada and how consequently, many Indigenous women are still working to understand their own worth and value.
In her most recent seminar, “Law and Disorder”, Palmater discussed some of the social problems prevalent due to colonization and internalized racism in Canadian society, such as higher rates of incarceration and spotty relations or mistrust with law enforcement. She explained how Indigenous people are being incarcerated at much higher rates, and are being arrested and punished for things that white people do not get arrested and punished for. In relation to this, Candy brought up many legal cases as well as political catalysts for the Indigenous community in Canada that resulted in both positive and negative change for the Indigenous people of Canada, such as negotiating of land ownership and resources, fishing rights, martial rights, and one that stood out to me the most, the Donald Marshall Junior case.
Donald Marshall Junior was a seventeen year old boy from the Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia who was drinking with some friends one evening in 1971. When another person he was associating with that night was stabbed, Donald was racially profiled and wrongly convicted of murder. He was indisputably sentenced served eleven years in prison, and after almost a two decades of fighting his name was finally cleared and he was granted a $700,000.00 settlement; money that will never replace the time spent being wrongfully incarcerated. The actual suspect, only served 6 months. In 1990, a sixteen page royal commission report was released accusing police, prosecutors and judges of “racism, incompetence and miscarriage of justice at every turn”.
Equally as important, Candy spoke about the differences in culture and how a simple lack of understanding of one's culture can lead to misinterpretation and conflict. For instance, when Donald Marshall Junior was in court he did not hold gaze with the Judge throughout his trial. The court read this as a sign of dishonesty, which further lead them to view him as an an undeniably guilty man. However, in Mi'kmaw culture, when someone has more power than you, you do not hold their gaze, as a sign of respect.
The history of Indigenous people in Canada, legal cases, stories of friends and family, as well as the personal experiences Candy shares while speaking really allow you to attain a deeper understanding of the challenges many Indigenous people face in Canada. She mentioned that lots of liasing has been done, but Canada still has a far way to go. She entailed the importance of education and how
"educators are the warriors of the new millenium."
It is always a pleasure having Candy at Seneca, and I genuinely look forward to her next seminar on April, 8th. Until then, I will leave you off with some words of wisdom that Candy repeated towards the end of her Seminar on Monday, and towards her attitude towards current political affairs and any conflict that arises,
"Nothing is absolute right or wrong. There is just a whole lot of shades of perception."